Get ready for the juiciest, most flavorful turkey ever with this easy turkey brine recipe, using kosher salt, fresh herbs, and dried spices.
With simple ingredients and easy steps, it’s the perfect prep for your next roast turkey.
If you’ve ever sat down to a Thanksgiving meal and been disappointed by a dry, tasteless turkey, you know how high the stakes are.
This post is all about the best turkey brine recipe that’ll turn your bird from just okay to “Oh, wow!”
With a mix of kosher salt, sugar, fresh herbs, and a touch of honey, we’re diving into wet brining that’ll make your turkey the star of your holiday table.
Worried about fridge space or whether to use a fresh or frozen turkey? Don’t be. We’ve got tips for that, too.
We’ll walk you through the whole process, including the importance of refrigerating your turkey during the brining process.
Check out our comprehensive guide, Everything You Need to Know About Brining the Turkey.
We’re not just making turkey here; we’re making the star of your Thanksgiving feast.
This Southern turkey brine recipe takes your bird to the next level, infusing it with flavors that make it juicier and more succulent than ever.
Why brine a turkey
When it comes to the Thanksgiving bird, there are two camps: briners and non-briners. Well, I guess there are also two other camps: stuffers and non-stuffers, although I never knew anyone who actually stuffed the turkey until I moved to Atlanta…and let’s just say, they ain’t from around here.
And that’s enough said about that.
At any rate, I am definitely in the brining camp. It’s more trouble, but the bird is moist and tasty when the process is done.
I use this turkey brine every year, along with a delicious herb butter rub that goes on the outside of my Thanksgiving turkey, leaving the skin crispy and flavorful while the meat inside is juicy and tender with a subtle hint of flavor from the herbs.
You need to plan ahead for this recipe. You can’t just decide Wednesday afternoon—or Thursday morning if you’re a really late planner—that you want to brine your turkey.
It takes a while to put the brine solution together and time for it to cool off enough for the turkey, and after the turkey soaks overnight, it needs to sit uncovered in the fridge for at least six hours to dry.
So, plan in advance and start this turkey brine process on Tuesday for a Thursday turkey. Example:
- Tuesday: Make the brine and soak the turkey overnight.
- Wednesday: Remove turkey from brine, rinse and dry, then place uncovered in the refrigerator.
- Thursday: Remove turkey from the refrigerator one hour before cooking. Then roast that baby!
Wet brine vs. dry brine
There are two types of brine: wet brine, using a saltwater solution, and dry brine, using salt and spices with no liquid.
While both wet and dry brining have their merits, this guide focuses on wet brining.
The saline solution dissolves some protein in the muscle fibers and helps tenderize and produce the juicy meat that elevates your holiday turkey.
See the printable recipe card below for the ingredient amounts and detailed instructions.
For 20 lb turkey:
- Kosher salt
- Whole peppercorns – use a mallet to crush these
- Whole cloves – crushed
- Whole allspice – crushed
- Ground cumin
- Dried rosemary
- Red pepper flakes
- Garlic – large head, sliced crossways
- Bay leaves
- Leeks – wash thoroughly
- Celery stalks
- Fresh thyme
- Cold water
- Chicken or turkey stock
- Optional: orange zest or orange peel
- Optional: fresh rosemary or other herbs
How to brine a turkey
Step 1: Bring broth to a boil. Place sugar, salt, and honey in a large pot. Add chicken stock and boil until sugar and salt dissolve, stirring every few minutes.
Step 2: Add spices. Stir the broth then remove from heat and add spices, vegetables, and herbs.
Step 3: Add additional cold water. Stir in water and remaining chicken stock. Tip: If you’re in a hurry, you can add ice to the water to cool things more quickly. Stir the solution and let it rest until completely cooled.
Do not put your turkey in a warm brine solution!
Step 4: Submerge and soak. Once the turkey brine has cooled completely, add the turkey, neck down, and make sure it is submerged. You can also use a brine bag if you prefer. Cover and place the pot in the refrigerator.
If you don’t have a big enough pot, you can use a bag inside a 5-gallon food-safe bucket with a liner.
The turkey needs to stay in the brine for 12-18 hours. The brine time depends on the size of the turkey. A larger bird can stay in the salt solution longer than a small bird.
Step 5: Rinse and pat dry. Remove the turkey from the pot, rinse carefully with clean water, and pat dry with paper towels.
Step 6: Airdry in the refrigerator. Place turkey in the refrigerator on a large cookie sheet or platter, uncovered, for at least 6 hours and up to 24 hours before roasting.
Note: You’ll never hear me say to rinse poultry because it’s generally not a safe practice, but in this instance, rinsing is necessary to remove excess salt.
That’s it! Time to roast the bird. Use our foolproof roasting guide and you’ll have the best Thanksgiving turkey!
- Allowing the turkey to rest uncovered in the refrigerator dries out the skin so it gets nice and crispy, but the meat still stays moist from the brine.
- Remove the turkey from the fridge one hour before you are ready to roast. This is long enough to allow it to come close to room temperature but not long enough to breed bacteria. You’ll have a moister and more evenly cooked juicy turkey.
- Fresh turkey is best, but thawed turkey works too.
- After rinsing, pat the brined turkey dry with paper towels for crispier skin.
- A large cooler works as a stand-in if you’re short on fridge space. Just make sure to keep it at 40°F.
- A 5-gallon bucket is another great option for those large turkeys.
- Cut this recipe in half if you want to roast a turkey breast rather than a large turkey.
Putting together this turkey brine and going through the whole process may require some work, but the juicy, flavorful results make it all worthwhile.
It’s a game-changer for your Thanksgiving menu. Happy cooking!
Check out our Holiday Recipe Collection!
And please follow us on social media:
Turkey Brine Recipe
- 3 cups kosher salt
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 cup honey
- 2 quarts chicken stock, divided
- 3 tablespoon whole peppercorns, crushed
- 1 tablespoon whole cloves, crushed
- 1 tablespoon whole allspice, crushed
- 1 tablespoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon dried rosemary
- 2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
- 2 heads garlic, sliced crosswise (slice off the tips from the non-root end)
- 4 bay leaves
- 2 leeks, washed and cut into 1 inch chunks
- 2 onions, chopped in large chunks
- 2 carrots, chopped in 1 inch pieces
- 2 celery stalks, chopped in 1 inch pieces
- 2 bunches fresh thyme
- 2 gallons water
- Place sugar, salt and honey in large stockpot. Add 1 1/2 quarts of the chicken broth.
- Bring to a boil and boil until sugar and salt are dissolved, stirring every few minutes. Remove from heat and add the spices, vegetables, and herbs.
- Add water and the other ½ quart of chicken stock. You can add ice to the water if you need to. Stir well. Let sit until completely cooled. Do not add turkey to warm water.
- Add turkey with neck down, make sure it is submerged and cover and place in refrigerator. Alternatively, place turkey in a brining bag, lay bag on a baking sheet, and place in refrigerator.
- Turkey needs to stay in the brine for 12-18 hours. Remove, rinse carefully, and pat dry with paper towels.
- If you don’t have a big enough pot, you can use a brining bag inside a 5-gallon bucket.
- If you don’t have room in the fridge, you can use a bag and place it in a cooler filled with ice. Just make sure it stays at 40 degrees.
- After brining, place turkey in the refrigerator on a platter, uncovered, for at least 6 hours and up to 24 hours before roasting. This will dry the skin so it gets nice and crispy, but the meat will still be moist from the brine.
UPDATE NOTES: This post was originally published November 21, 2010, and on September 20, 2023, was updated with one or more of the following: step-by-step photos, video, updated recipe, new tips.